“Sticks and stones can break my bones; but names will never hurt me”
This is easily one of the biggest lies ever told to us as children. The truth of the matter is that where broken bones will heal in weeks, the words of another can haunt us for the rest of our lives.
I grew up during a time where bullying wasn’t seen as a problem, it was just something every kid experienced in one way or another. You would think the words of a parent or loved one would count for so much more than ignorant children and adolescents, but the negative can pose a greater influence than the positive. It was also a time where some teachers stopped it in its tracks where others overlooked it because we had to “toughen up”.
As a child I was a victim of bullying. Funny very few people know about it. I didn’t share what i dealt with with even my family for concern that my fears would be confirmed.
I lived in a very little town (graduated with a class of 68 other students). Everyone here was of lower-middle class to middle-middle class socio-economic status, most being children of farmers or those who worked in the tool and dye or machine shop industries. Diversity in our area extended as far as distinguishing between Amish and English (non- Amish). But flip through my year book and you would see that racially we had no diversity outside of exchange students. But I was different.
I was different because I lived with my grandparents; and my parents were still alive.
My mother loved me very much but was not in a place where she could take care of me. By allowing my grandma to take custody of me she kept me out of foster care. In a sense she gave me up to keep me. It was an act of love, not hate, and it took me a while to see that.
It took me a while to see that because of the words that other children spoke to me. Words that put doubt in my mind of what i was worth, if anything at all.
Some were innocently trying to make sense of a situation they understood as little as I did. They never meant to hurt me when they would ask me why my parents didn’t want me. My father wasn’t around either but that is a longer story that I will get to later.
Other kids were meaner, telling me they didn’t want me around, or as one kid told me once; “why would we want to hang out with you, you’re own parents don’t think you’re good enough to stick around”.
The worst I ever hear was in the 7th grade when one girl in my class told me, “you’re just in everyone’s way, why don’t you save everyone the trouble and kill yourself”.
And even though my mom and grandma both would tell me they loved me, they fought with each other and it was often about me, and it made me think that everything those other kids were saying to me must be true.
I struggled for a long time with whether I was worth anyone’s time at all. I was hard on myself. Allowed myself to think i had to be perfect to be worth anything. Would get mad at myself when i couldn’t meet unrealistic expectations I had set for myself. I degraded myself, and i shut myself off from people. Most of the pictures taken of me in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade of high school, i was by myself reading a book. Yes I was a book worm, but i was a book worm because the only place at school i really felt accepted were in the stories I was reading. I could live a whole different life from the one i was struggling with in reality.
I became a Christian when I was ten years old, but I was in college before the process of restoration really began in my life.
This is where I need to tell the story of my father.
When I was seven the man i had known as my father left, i’ll use his initials MW. I struggled a lot with his leaving. The fact that he wasn’t around really made what the kids said to me feel like the truth, not just some comments from unknowing kids. I had nothing to lean on to fight the lies and I internalized it. Mom was around as much as she could be, but dad wasn’t so there had to be truth to it all.
I was in college when I was contacted my MW. He had seen my graduation announcement a few years prior and his wife finally convinced him to look me up on the university website and see if i’d at least respond to the email. I did, we started talking. I learned a lot about his and mom’s relationship, things i think mom was to embarrassed to talk about, and while i never agreed with it, i understood more about why he left.
But I still struggled with the same issues in my life. The lies I’d been told by peers in my childhood, I now told myself. I would dismiss compliments because they conflicted with what I saw as “my truth”. Everything bogged me down more and more until i let it consume me. I became apathetic to my faith, i started allowing myself to get caught up in relationships that weren’t the healthiest trying to find validation that the lies i’d fed myself all these years were true.
At 24 I was pregnant and alone. I was scared. So scared I feared telling my family. I told my grandma and she urged me to move home. I told my mother and she was overjoyed to be becoming a grandmother (still worried her boyfriend at the time thought my 14 year old brother had knocked a girl up – mom did have two grown children at the time). I told my “dad”, MW and he started urging an abortion because it would be easier on me.
I don’t really like easy, i prefer to do things right. He didn’t talk to me again until after my daughter was born. Alayna was born in August, I talked to MW again probably in September or October. February rolled around and my mother dropped some news on. She’d been in contact with my father. This surprised me because i assumed she, like my grandmother, lovingly referred to him as “a**hole”. Mom told me she wasn’t talking to MW. And then she began to tell me that shortly after she and MW had broken up she started seeing my father. And then she found out she was pregnant. She really wasn’t sure who the father was at first, she had an idea but no real way of knowing. My father needed to go back down south where he lived, he wanted her to come with him, I hadn’t been born yet, and mom didn’t want to leave her family. So she told him I wasn’t his. He left. She’d hoped MW would step up but honestly once i was born there was no mistaking which one was my father. She was 24, alone, and with a child she had no means to support.
She and MW had an on again off again relationship until just before I went to live with grandma. MW disliked my grandma intensely, a feeling I’ve been told was mutual from grandma’s side as well. He told me once he didn’t care if I was his or not, but it always left me wondering why that didn’t stop him from leaving. When I mentioned mom’s story of the “other guy” to him, he sputtered off something about “not needing a paternity test” and I haven’t heard from him since.
The story doesn’t stop there. I began talking to my father, my biological father. Normally I would say you don’t need to be blood related to be a real dad, but he is my real dad. And this is where the amazing power of God’s restoration comes in.
I started talking to my father in February of 2010, a DNA test confirmed he was my father in March of 2010. In May my daughter and I flew to Louisiana to meet the rest of our family, and in August of that year we moved down there. I had a job offer and it was an opportunity to get to know our family.
As I got to know my father a lot of the negative thoughts about who I am or what i was worth began to dissolve. My father didn’t leave because he didn’t want me or because I was in his way, he left because he never knew I was his. There are other details to this story that I don’t find relevant and have long since been resolved.
But the time getting to know my father and the whole situation around his absence changed one other thing in my mind. I no longer saw my moving from my mom’s to my grandma’s and mom abandoning me, i finally had the insight to realize what an act of love that was, and how hard it much have been for her, what a sacrifice that was for her.
I have forgiven my mother, for things done and those i had perceived she had done. While she may not needed forgiveness on her end I had to settle it in my heart.
I have forgiven MW. I still don’t agree with many of his choices, but I understand them, and can’t live in a healthy mindset without letting those things go.
I have forgiven my grandmother. Why did I need to forgive her? Because she knew about all of this, but because she felt it needed to be something dealt with between my mother and I, she never really told me. She let me struggle with the thought that I had been abandoned. She was doing what she thought was right, but it added to the whole situation for me. Again she never needed to ask for forgiveness, but I had to give it so as not to be consumed by the thoughts that came with it.
And through all of this God has shown me I am not worthless, I am not a failure, I am not in the way. I am loved, I am special, I am important to many around me.
Best of all I am not defined by the words of others, I am a child of God and the sacrifice of Jesus has set me free from all that binds me to these lies.